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Meetings

Why You Need a Daily Prioritization Meeting

If you're always reacting, you're never in control of your day. Fight back with a daily prioritization check-in.


We live in a culture of urgency, constantly throwing our emotional energy into the latest public scandal, emergency, or cat video. Most of us work in always-switched-on companies where everything feels urgent. Call backs, emails, and meetings are wrought with peak energy. How quickly do you expect a response to an email or changes to a report?

Because of this, I believe that prioritizing is the most essential skill a creative can possess. The constant influx of information from social media, emails, clients, advertising, etc., makes it difficult to decipher what’s important, what to abandon and what to work on now. Can you even add up the sheer number of small decisions you make each day?

The media theorist and writer Douglas Rushkoff describes his concept of “present shock” as “one big now… where everything is happening so fast it may as well be simultaneous.” He says the incoming barrage of information has degraded our ability to create long-term plans, and instead sets us up to react, react, react.

“The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.” Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Urgency is a great motivator, but a flimsy one. The problem with urgency is that no one can remember what’s really important, so we spend too much time and energy on activities that don’t matter.

It’s true the creatives among us who make ideas happen have a remarkable ability to ignore distractions. But being creative and productive requires long stretches of focus, a commodity that is shrinking in the face of present shock. 

For several months, I’ve been experimenting with this idea of relentless prioritizing, conducting mini-strategic plans and reordering to-do lists. I still grapple with the barrage of information, but having a methodology helps. By the way, “strategic planning” is the process of defining a direction and then making decisions to allocate resources to that direction. Who says we can only do them once a year at an off-site?

My daily prioritization check-in

I have to remind myself that I’m acting against the great cultural tide of urgency. Prioritizing means not getting sucked into that tide. So I prioritize twice a day, as a ritual. The process for figuring out what is important is really just a simple series of questions:

  1. Do I really have to do this now?
  2. If so, is it “The Most Important Thing?”
  3. If not, where does it fit relative to the other tasks?
  4. Is someone waiting on me for this?
  5. If so, when do they need it?
  6. Does working/not working on this now have long-term consequences that I’m missing?

Part of reducing present shock is refusing to react. The best practice I’ve come up with is to not react to demands as they come in. Instead, I recognize them, and add them to a running list. Only when I have a proper break do I put them on the to-do list. The moment we enter “reaction” mode, we’ve surrendered our day to the whims of others.

It helps me to a) notice, and therefore not react so I don’t feel like anything is slipping away, and b) place things properly along the spectrum of priorities. I map my to-do’s or action items directly to strategic initiatives in order to better allocate my resources. For example, “buy conference tickets” might be mapped to my business, while “do the dishes” goes on my home to-do list (nerd alert: they’re also color-coded).

The moment we enter reaction mode, we’ve surrendered our day to the whims of others.

The first check-in occurs in the middle of the day, before or after lunch. Am I working on what I said I was going to work on? Am I making progress? Am I working on the most important thing? I re-order appropriately. I’ve saved myself lots of frustration by course-correcting in the middle of the work day.

Check-in #2 is right before bed, when I plan for the next day. That way when I start at my desk in the morning, I don’t fall back into my inbox and back into response mode. And, if I do find I’m constantly reacting to the flood, I show myself some compassion. Drifting isn’t always a bad thing.

Being consistent about prioritization has produced interesting results. My major projects are moving along nicely. I feel less harried. The things I choose not to do, I choose purposefully. I’m able to focus longer and get back on track when necessary.

So is prioritization the solution to present shock? Maybe. Is prioritization a key weapon in reducing stress and staying sane? Absolutely.

How about you?

How do you prioritize incoming tasks?

Scott McDowell

  • http://www.scoop.it/t/daily-clippings/p/4014952013/2014/01/28/why-you-need-a-daily-prioritization-meeting Why You Need a Daily Prioritization Meeting | D...

    […] If you're always reacting, you're never in control of your day. Fight back with a daily prioritization check-in.  […]

  • Kathy Holzapfel

    What I needed to read today! Fave line: “I have to remind myself that I’m acting against the great cultural tide of urgency.”

  • http://www.wayfaringwanderer.com/ Wayfaring Wanderer

    I like the idea of a midday check-in! That’s something I should start implementing to keep myself on track! Thank you for the tips!

  • http://www.visiblelogic.com/ Emily Brackett

    #4 and #5 are where I get sidetracked too often, as a studio owner. I need to focus on my key tasks, but I need to avoid being the bottle neck for others.

  • Noé Teyssedou

    What productivity software do you use to get organized, if any?

    • Johanna Both

      I have 2 of them, both available as mobile apps because i need them on the go as well. Evernote is for all my notes, lists, link and website collections while Trello is more for workflows/projects to follow-up with a team.

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  • growthguided

    Do you ever feel that this approach causes the day to be more rigid than it needs to be ?

    Thank you for your article

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  • Rivki Locker

    Great post! Would love to know what software you use to help with this process, and any special tips for how to set it up.

  • Johanna Both

    Thanks for the article.
    I can survive only on ToDo lists and reminders:) I usually do the #1 check-in by morning coffee/tea. I’m a multitasking person, but when I have something 1st priority or a deadline I just force myself not to do anything else. First step: close everything (tools, browser windows) on my computer which is not connected to the task. Second: give myself a fix deadline (like couple of hours) to finish or at least partly finish the task that day. Third: mute my phone for a while (this is the most difficult one beacuse u have to catch up later anyway)

  • http://trilloclass.com/ chrispa

    I use Daily Update (http://dailyupdate.io) as a tool to plan tomorrow at the end of the day. For me it just works to carve out the few minutes to think about tomorrow at the end of the day. Something about getting tomorrow ‘out of my head’ lets me relax. That tool then emails me my todos the next morning so I’ve got a reminder on what to focus on. For my regular todo list I’m a huge Trello fan! (http://trello.com)

    • swissmiss

      Daily update is shutting down😦. Found this note on their website: “Due to a lack of development resources Daily Update is winding down. We are no longer accepting trial signups.” Does anyone know of a similar tool?

      • http://trilloclass.com/ chrispa
      • http://blog.idonethis.com/ Janet Choi

        Hi Chris! Thanks for recommending us. Great idea to use iDoneThis prospectively!

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    […] If you're always reacting, you're never in control of your day. Fight back with a daily prioritization check-in.  […]

  • adamrafferty

    Excellent post! I have been doing this as well, and could always focus even more. Thank you Scott.

  • ruthenium66

    This couldn’t be any timelier. Thank you!

  • http://webodew.com/ Miello

    really like these ideas….I’m actually looking forward to bedtime to giving them a shot:)

  • Steven M. Long

    Nice article. I have a list of things that I’m working on at any given time. Some are time-sensitive, some aren’t, but I number them in terms of importance, not urgency, and review daily, to keep this differentiation clear and ongoing in my mind mind.

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  • kristina

    Great article! I use a very old-school tool to keep track of multiple client projects and personal stuff without losing my mind. It’s a calendar made by Planner Pads, and it’s weekly page spreads are divided into thirds: the top is for tracking projects by category (or client) for the week, the midsection is the to-do for each day, and the bottom is for calendaring meetings and appointments. Each day, I review the weekly section and my appointments, then drop in specific tasks into each day. It forces me to prioritize regularly, and I have an at a glance way to see if something can or should be done now or needs to wait until later.

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